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TikTok Reiterates Free Speech Concerns Over Potential US Ban

TikTok has once again voiced its apprehensions regarding a bill that the House of Representatives passed, which threatens to ban the app in the U.S. unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, divests its stake within a year. 

The legislation, which saw the House vote in favor by a substantial margin of 360 to 58 on Saturday, is now headed to the Senate where it could be considered soon. 

President Joe Biden has indicated his readiness to sign the bill should it reach his desk. 

The bipartisan support for the bill stems from concerns among U.S. lawmakers and the Biden administration that TikTok poses a national security risk. 

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Credits: DepositPhotos – Tula, Russia – October 18, 2020: Tik-Tok logo on iPhone display. — Photo by burdun

They argue that the Chinese government could potentially force the company to hand over data from its 170 million U.S. users. 

Incorporating the TikTok ban into a broader foreign aid package is seen as a strategy to expedite the enactment of the ban, following delays with a similar bill in the Senate. 

TikTok criticized the legislative approach, claiming it undermines the free speech rights of millions of Americans by using significant foreign and humanitarian aid measures as a cover to push through the ban. 

Previously in February, TikTok had similarly challenged a bill that had stalled in the Senate, pointing out that it would restrict the voices of millions of Americans.

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Credits: DepositPhotos – Seoul, South Korea -August, 2023 : TikTok app. Tik Tok application icon on smartphone screen. — Photo by jypix

The company had also contested a state-level ban in Montana, asserting it infringed on First Amendment rights. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed opposition to the House bill, citing free speech concerns. 

TikTok maintains that it has never shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government, nor does it intend to. 

However, concerns persist among U.S. officials, such as Democratic Senator Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

He suggested that TikTok could serve as a propaganda tool for the Chinese government, especially among young Americans who often use the platform for news. 

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Credits: DepositPhotos – Lviv, Ukraine – 04 04 2023: TikTok ban on smartphone. TikTok app logo on a smartphone screen and flags of United States on the background. — Photo by LessLemon

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has argued that the bill offers “no real pay-off” since rival nations could still purchase American data from brokers and use other U.S.-based platforms for disinformation efforts.

Some Democrats are advocating for stronger data privacy laws instead of a ban, citing potential constitutional challenges related to free speech. 

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna expressed skepticism about the ban’s viability in court, given the constitutional protections for free speech. 

The recent legislation adjusts the timeline given to ByteDance to divest TikTok’s U.S. operations from six months to about nine months, with a possible three-month extension if deemed necessary by the president. 

Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell has shown support for the modified bill after requesting revisions to the earlier version proposed in March. 

The ongoing debate over TikTok also featured in a recent discussion between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with Biden raising concerns over the app’s ownership and its implications.